Creative Ways to Support New Parents Returning to the Workforce

by Lauren Girardin on December 27, 2018

Life for growing families is complicated. Do your organization’s policies make it easier for people to transition back to work? If your organization wants to attract and retain new parents, paying attention to their needs is crucial.

Although these tips focus on helping new parents returning to the workforce, these best practices can support other employees as well. Your organization will also be a better employer for adoptive parents, guardians, caregivers, and others whose personal responsibilities could have an impact on their schedules.

Maternity, paternity, parental, and family leave

Time off from work gives new parents an opportunity to bond with their child. Paid leave should be available to new parents, including those who have adopted a child of any age. Keep in mind that offering leave may not be enough to overcome the bias that people have against women who take maternity leave. To help women return to work on equal footing, offer paid leave to all new parents, as well as to the main and supportive caregivers of any gender. Human resources should take the lead and educate staff that taking leave does not negatively affect job performance. By creating family-centered policies and providing anti-bias training, you’ll help your organization retain employees.

Before the employee’s return

The week before the employee’s first day back, have a call or video meeting between the employee, their manager, and HR. Review priorities for their first week and any paperwork that needs to be completed. Add key expectations and milestones during their re-entry period to your government performance review software. Schedule follow-up meetings at the end of their first week and their first month back to address any issues that may come up. Set your team up for success by using tech tools that support clarity and transparency during their return to work.

Their team

The returning employee isn't the only one who will have to make adjustments. Help their team prepare for how workflows and roles will change to make it easier for new parents to return to work. Hold a team meeting to talk about the reentry and changes to expect. Let the returning employee add topics to the agenda and participate in the meeting. Afterwards, the employee and their manager should put a plan in place to address concerns raised by the team.

Interim staff

Chances are, one or more people stepped in to fulfill the duties of the employee on leave. Even though these team members knew the position was temporary, they still may feel as if they're being demoted or losing authority. Talk to these individuals so they know their feelings are being heard and to thank them for their hard work. Use this opportunity to discuss how their professional development goals may have shifted because of the experience.

Schedule flexibility

Sometimes new parents aren't ready for a full-time, fixed schedule job, yet they're able and eager to return to work. Explore how your organization can offer schedule flexibility through options such as part-time roles, job sharing, a compressed workweek, or telework and working from home.

Lactation room

An easily accessible, private, and dedicated space for new mothers to pump or breastfeed is crucial to welcoming them back to the workplace. Include productivity features such as a hands-free conference phone, and make sure wifi and cell reception work as well in the space as anywhere else in the office. If your organization hosts off-site staff retreats or conferences, require the event location to offer an appropriate lactation space. It should be conveniently located so employees are not taken away from the event for a long time.

Travel

If possible, offer new parents a reduced out-of-town travel schedule, and assure them it won't affect their performance review. They may not take you up on the offer, but they and their family will appreciate the option. For mothers who will be on the road, offer to book them in a hotel room that has a refrigerator with a freezer. Cover the costs of shipping their pumped breast milk home so they don't need to fuss over bringing it through airport security.

Babies allowed

Especially when babies are small, they’re usually not a distraction for the parent or other employees. A few bold mothers have even presented at conferences holding their baby and spoken before Parliament while breastfeeding. Become a baby-friendly workplace and allow new parents to bring their baby to the office. Install baby changing stations in both the women’s and men’s restrooms. Go a step further and provide on-site childcare to become a top employer that parents want to work for.

Lauren Girardin

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.